For all the Bush administration’s talk of “leaving no child behind,” the U.S. higher education system remains underfunded and inaccessible to many low-income families. Too often, financial constraints prevent qualified students from attending top universities – or any college, for that matter. At a time of skyrocketing tuition rates, Congress is cutting need-based aid for college students instead of working to ameliorate the situation. With states and universities all strapped for cash, Congress should not let the administration’s wasteful spending practices hinder the ability of students from low- and middle-income families to receive a quality education.

Sarah Royce

The House approved a bill last month that would cut $14 billion from student financial aid programs, and the Senate passed a similar $9 billion cut. Each bill would reduce federal loan subsidies to lenders, ultimately pushing up interest rates on student loans. University alum and U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Battle Creek) voted in favor of the cut, insisting, “It doesn’t really cut spending; it minimally cuts spending growth.” His logic is flawed: Considering the rate at which college tuition is rising, decreasing the rate of growth of financial aid is effectively a cut because it hampers students’ ability to meet higher tuition rates.

The changes would save Congress some money, minimally and temporarily alleviating a fraction of the daunting federal deficit. But the bill’s burden falls directly on students – a Congressional Budget Office report found that a student graduating with the national average of $17,000 in loans would pay nearly $6,000 extra should the House’s version pass.

Congress should not force colleges to bear the cost of subsidizing students’ education; recent cuts in higher education appropriations have left universities unable to absorb the impact of this latest round of financial aid cuts. Nothing should come before a quality education for every student, without which the U.S. economy will lag behind tech-savvy nations that continue to make their higher education systems more sophisticated and affordable.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D

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